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Homeschooling: What about sports and extracurricular activities?

Homeschooling your kids comes with a number of challenges to meet. You might worry about their social interaction, whether they’ll get to have prom like their public school-going peers, or even whether they want to participate in programs offered by a public school like band practice, cheerleading, choir, math groups, and others. 

Public schools offer some popular and interesting events that may intrigue homeschoolers.  Many teens will want to go to dances, learn how to drive, play on a team, or explore music. So, what are the answers to those challenging questions? There are several options:

Work Through the School District

Contact the local school district and see what its policy is on permitting homeschoolers to join the school’s events, teams, or groups. Be specific in what you are asking when you call. Schools might allow a teen to attend driver’s education classes, for example, but not permit attending the prom—or vice versa. Some schools are happy to accommodate homeschooling families with access to all activities, while others choose to completely restrict it.  In addition to contacting the local public school, consider reaching out to area private and charter schools to see what their policies are on incorporating homeschoolers.

Look at Community Programs

While schools do offer some great activities, they are rarely the ONLY place to offer them. Look around to see what other choices you might have.

  • If your teen wants to join a local sports team, check out the local YMCA to see what sports it has to offer. You can also see if there are any local leagues sponsored by businesses or community groups.  Be sure to contact community centers, as they frequently offer a chance to play a variety of sports. Look at resources online such as Craigslist or Meetup.com to find clubs, teams, and other activities.
  • Students who play instruments or sing can look into private lessons, as well as explore city orchestras  and local music groups. Choirs are available through churches and other independent groups. Community theatres offer a chance to explore drama.
  • Driver’s education courses are offered by many groups, including police organizations and independent companies. School enrollment is not necessary to participate in most of these courses. Parents can also purchase packaged driver’s education programs online and teach the subject themselves.  National Driver Training Institute offers homeschooling programs. Just make sure you’re aware of the driver education laws in your state.
  • Homeschoolers can typically attend prom if their partners are enrolled in the school. Perhaps your son or daughter’s main goal is just to dress up and go to a dance, rather than specifically the prom. If so, community dances are available in many cities.

Start Your Own

One trait homeschoolers tend to be known for is creating their own activities when they can’t find what they need within their communities. Support groups often have enough members that they are able to start a small sports team, a choir, a band, or an acting troupe. It takes time, effort, and dedication, of course, but many parents are willing to do it to help their children.

Homeschool proms are becoming more and more popular across the country. A 2 Z Home’s Cool  lists a growing number of states that host these dances annually,  including:

  • Alabama
  • California
  • Indiana
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Texas
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia

(For parents who are starting from scratch to organize a prom in their area, there is a helpful site with many resources on it at http://home-school.lovetoknow.com/Homeschool_Prom. It offers information on how to find the best location for the prom, how to budget the money, where to find flowers, food, and beverages and more.)

Homeschooling teens—and just parenting them—can be a complex combination of challenging and delightful. Having the answers to the most common questions that can arise is one way to make the trip a little easier—for everyone involved. To learn more about homeschooling, check out Homeschooling 101: An Introduction to the Laws and Legalities of Homeschooling and The Most Important Questions to Ask Before Deciding to Homeschool.

Tamra Orr is the author of six books on the topic of homeschooling, including Homeschooling FAQs: 101 Questions Every Parent Should Ask, The Parent’s Guide to Homeschooling, and After Homeschool: Fifteen Homeschoolers Out in the Real World. In addition, she homeschooled her four children from Kindergarten through high school graduation.

Teaching About The Grand Old Flag

Flag Day is June 14

The American flag has survived battles, inspired songs and reflected the growth of the country it represents.  Why not take some time to celebrate with your students what is arguably the best-known flag in all the world.

History of the American Flag

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress in Philadelphia established an official flag for the new United States of America: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”  In 1949, President Harry S. Truman officially declared June 14 as Flag Day.  The story of this American institution is as exciting as the history of the nation itself.

Did Betsy Ross really sew the first American flag?

The story goes something like this… in May of 1776, a mysterious trio of visitors entered the home of a Philadelphia upholsterer by the name of Betsy Ross.  The most famous of the three was none other than George Washington, then commander of the Continental Army.  Ross knew Washington because their pews at Philadelphia’s Christ Church were next to each other.  In fact, Ross had embroidered ruffles for Washington’s shirts.

The men presented Ross with the plan for a new flag which included six-pointed stars, one for each of the colonies.  The seamstress showed them it was easier to cut out five-pointed stars and convinced them to make the change.  They appointed her to sew the first flag representing what would, in just weeks, become a new country.

As I said up front, that’s the story.  The Washington Post, however, debunked that tale in a 2011 opinion piece.

What’s in a name?

Formally, the flag is called “the flag of the United States of America”, but over the years, the American flag has been given many nicknames.

Sometime in the 1820s, a Massachusetts sea captain by the name of William Driver gave the moniker “Old Glory” to a large, 10-by-17-foot American flag flown on his ship.  The flag had been sewn by his mother.

The distinctive design of the flag made it unique, hence the nicknames “the Stars and Stripes” dating back to at least 1809 and “the Star-spangled Banner” dating from the War of 1812 (see more about this below).

There are many nations whose flags feature the colors red, white, and blue (e.g. France, the United Kingdom, North Korea), but there’s only one flag that goes by “the red, white, and blue”—the American flag.  Some think this nickname may have its origins in a line from George M. Cohan’s 1906 song You’re a Grand Old Flag: “ev’ry heart beats true, ‘neath the Red, White, and Blue.”  However, the American flag is lauded in Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean written in 1843: “Three cheers for the red, white, and blue!”

Design of the American Flag

The so-called Grand Union Flag was the model for the original design of the American flag.  Also known as the Continental Colors Flag, the Grand Union had 13 alternating red and white stripes, with the Union Jack (the flag of Great Britain) in the corner where the stars are placed today.  In 1777, Congress decreed the Union Jack be replaced with 13 white stars on a blue field, one for each state (13 at the time).

Colors

Over the years, Congressional acts changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed stars to be added to reflect the admission of each new state.  Today the flag consists of seven red stripes alternating with six white.  The stripes represent the original 13 colonies, and the stars represent the 50 states of the Union.  Officially, the red used on the flag is known as “old glory red”, and the blue field of stars is “old glory blue”.  The stars are white, not gold or yellow.

Dimensions

The shape of the flag is also specified by Congress.  The ratio of width to length must always be 1:1.9.  The width of each stripe must be exactly 1/13 of the flag width.  The dimensions of the field of stars (known as “the Union”) are also specific.  Likewise, each star is 4/5 the width of a stripe.

Size

One aspect of the flag that is not dictated by law is its size.  The largest flying American flag can be found in Gastonia, North Carolina. The flag is 114 feet by 65 feet (7,410 square feet), and each stripe is five feet tall.  It’s attached to a massive pole that is over 225 feet tall and has a diameter of five feet.  On a clear day the flag can be seen from over 30 miles away.

The granddaddy of the grand old flag

The largest American Flag ever created, but, due to its size, was never flown, is a flag once owned by Thomas Demski, a former mayor of Long Beach, California.  This “superflag” is 505 feet by 225 feet and weighs 3,000 pounds.  Demski’s flag is about one-and-a-half football fields long.  Each star is a massive 17 feet high, and it takes 500 people to stretch out and hold the flag.

Flying the American Flag

The flag has flown over many places in the United States, its possessions, and its military and civilian facilities around the world.  The aforementioned superflag has been unfurled at Superbowls, the Washington Monument, and the Hoover Dam

The first time the American flag was flown overseas was in 1805 when the Stars and Stripes were hoisted over Fort Derne, on the shores of Tripoli in Libya.  The flag was placed at the North Pole in 1909 and on top of Mount Everest in 1963. (places the flag has flown)  The American flag has not been restrained by gravity, as Old Glory was first planted on the moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969.

Proper display of the flag

The American flag is usually displayed outdoors from sunrise until sunset.  The flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.  The flag should not be flown in inclement weather.  The flag should be flown daily, including all holidays, on or near all public institutions including polling places on election days and in front of schools when in session.  When displayed flat against a wall or a window, or in a vertical orientation, the field of stars should be at the top left of the observer.

The flag should be raised vigorously and lowered respectfully.  When the flag is raised or lowered as part of a ceremony, and as it passes by in parade or review, everyone, except those in uniform, should face the flag with the right hand over the heart.  The flag should never be dipped toward any person or object, nor should the flag ever touch the ground or anything beneath it.

The Pledge of Allegiance

The pledge has been an important part of civic life since 1923.  Countless school days have begun with this spoken anthem of loyalty to the flag and the nation.  According to the Flag Code, when the pledge is recited, it should be done “standing at attention facing the flag with one’s right hand over one’s heart.  When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.”

The American Flag in custom and tradition

The flag plays a central role as a symbol of the nation.  It is used to inspire, comfort, and galvanize Americans for a cause.

Songs about Old Glory

Many songs have been written about the flag over the years.  Probably the most celebrated is The Star-spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key’s tribute to the flag.  After a British bombardment in Baltimore Harbor in 1814, Key was inspired by the sight of the American flag still flying over Fort McHenry.  The song officially became the national anthem in 1931.  The original flag is displayed today at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Other popular songs about the flag have been written over the years.  You’re a Grand Old Flag is a spirited patriotic song written by George M. Cohan in 1906 for his stage musical George Washington, Jr.  The Stars and Stripes Forever was written and composed by John Philip Sousa in 1896, and became the official march of the United States in 1987 by an act of the

U.S. Congress.  In his lyrics, Sousa’s praise for Old Glory is hyperbolic:

“Other nations may deem their flags the best

And cheer them with fervid elation

But the flag of the North and South and West

Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.”

Songs about the flag reinforced Americans’ resilience following the terror attacks of September 11.  Charlie Daniels’ song This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag and Toby Keith’s Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American) reflected the feelings of millions of Americans.

Resources for Teaching about Flag Day

Help Teaching has created these educational resources on facts about flag day:

KidsKonnect.com offers these resources:

BusyTeacher.org has these free resources:

Your students will enjoy these videos about Flag Day:

These Free Flag Day resources are from the National Constitution Center:

Here are some delicious Easy Patriotic Cake Decorating Ideas from Chiff.com.

The United States Flag Code and other flag facts can be found at The American Legion’s website

So, “unfurl” these resources this Flag Day to help teach your students about the Grand Old Flag!

Top 10 Educational Blog Posts of 2021

Each year, we share blog posts on a range of topics related to education. With the school year drawing to a close, we wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the posts HelpTeaching users found the most useful this year. You might just discover a few you missed or even a few you want to share with friends.

Top 100 Free Education Sites of 2014

#1 Top 100 Free Education Sites

We scoured the web and discovered our picks for the top sites for math, science, social studies, reading, writing, and more. Our list even included the top sites for early education, educating yourself, and education news. Be on the lookout for our 2016 update to the annual list which will include the top sites for computer science education.

#2 30 Things I Wish I Learned in High School

30 Things I Wish I Learned in High School

Many students are set to graduate high school this year and head out into the world. Some will do this with teen bravado and think they know it all, while others are anxious about what the future holds. This article highlights some wisdom about basic skills that aren’t necessarily taught in high school but are invaluable in the wider world. These include time management, self-care, how to study, preparing healthy meals, and many more gems.

 

#3 Top Strategies for Teaching Anatomy and Physiology

Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Weird But True, and other enterprises like them have made an entire business of highlighting the odd, wacky, and incredible things the human body can do. Yet, engaging high school students in a topic that they may feel they already know enough about (after all, don’t we walk around in these bodies every day?!) can be a challenge. Bring anatomy and physiology alive in the classroom setting with these strategies and resources that will draw students in, hold their interest, and maximize their learning.

Ultimate Guide to Teaching Science in 2014-2015

#4 The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Science

Teachers looking to spice up their science instruction should check out our Ultimate Guide to Teaching Science. It includes resources to help teach the Next Generation Science Standards, access to breaking science news, and fun activities for students.

 

#5 How to Engage Young Learners (Toddlers & Preschool)

What can feel like herding cats at times, engaging young learners is critically important to their development. So how do you engage little ones who have tons of energy, strong opinions, and whose question is “why?” The key is to use their energy and opinionated nature to your advantage. Whether you’re working with one child or a group of children, we’ve discovered some ways to help harness the energy of young learners and maximize their ability to learn.

#6 Brain Breaks: Helping Students Reset, Refresh, and Get Moving

Let’s face it, learning can be overwhelming. With so much information coming in at once, sometimes students just need a break. That’s where brain breaks come in. Brain breaks are short, focused activities designed to help students recharge and refocus. Although typically used with preschool and elementary grades, brain breaks can be used with students of all ages.

#7 Ultimate Guide to Free Online Self-Learning for KidsUltimate Guide to Free Online Self-Learning Resources for Kids (K-6). 75 resources - video, courses/lessons, references, and more.

There’s no denying it, 2020 and 2021 have been crazy years. Fortunately, the Internet has come to the rescue on the teaching front and transformed traditional education in ways we hadn’t imagined. We have gathered links to help kids in grades pre-K through sixth grade learn online. The 70+ resources are organized by type (videos, online courses, reference materials, and more).

#8 100 Fitness Activities for Families

Fitness is really important for physical and mental health. And with lots of confinement in 2020 and 2021, it’s been more important than ever to get creative when it comes to fitness and finding things to do together. To help get you started, we’ve gathered a list of 100 activities to do with your family. Whether you have toddlers, tweens, or teens, taking time to improve your health and promote quality family time is worth every second!

#9 The Importance of Self-directed Learning

As adults, we know that self-directed learning a critical skill to have. This is why it’s important to teach children when they’re young how to learn independently. Given the right tools, guidance, and motivation, the potential for student success is limitless. So we’ve rounded up ways to help you impart this skill to your kids. Keep reading to learn more.

#10 A to Z: The Best Books for Teens

With lots of time at home, parents have been looking for ways to limit screen time for their kids, especially teens. To help invite them into the wonderful world of reading, we’ve rounded up some of our top picks.

We hope we were able to provide our users with helpful resources this year and look forward to continuing to publish topics that will help you be the best teacher you can be. What are some topics you’d like to see us tackle? Why not get in contact and share your ideas with us!

Celebrating Memorial Day – No Greater Gift

Teach your students about the ultimate sacrifice

The meaning of the most solemn of civic holidays is sometimes lost, as many Americans view Memorial Day weekend as simply the unofficial start of the summer season.  There may be a vague awareness of Memorial Day’s meaning among the general populace, but for families which have a military tradition the day can be deeply personal.  We’ll take a look at the origin of this day of remembrance, examine how it is celebrated, and profile some of the courageous people who have given their lives for their country.

What is Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is always observed on the last Monday in May.  It commemorates all men and women who have died while giving military service to the United States.  Memorial Day should not be confused with Veterans Day, which is a celebration of all U.S. military veterans every November, or with Armed Forces Day (celebrated the third Saturday in May) which honors men and women currently serving in the military.

The History of Memorial Day

While some trace the idea of a “memorial” day back to President Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery in 1863, an actual Memorial Day holiday began in 1868, just a few years after the end of the Civil War.  The holiday, originally called Decoration Day, was established by a group of Union veterans as a day to decorate with flowers the graves of fallen soldiers.

In an 1868 Decoration Day address at Arlington Cemetery, then-congressman and future U.S. president James Garfield said, “I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion.”  This sentiment still captures the true meaning of Memorial Day today.

In 1873, New York became the first state to recognize Memorial Day as an official holiday.  By the late 19th century, many more cities observed Memorial Day, and a number of states had declared it a legal holiday.  In 1971, an act of Congress made Memorial Day a national holiday.  In 2000, Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, encouraging Americans to observe a moment of silence at 3 p.m. local time to remember those who have died while serving.

Memorial Day Traditions

Americans observe Memorial Day in many ways.  Parades, speeches, ceremonies and concerts are held around the country.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The solemn holiday is formally observed each year at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. when the president gives a speech at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  This monument contains remains of unidentified soldiers and stands as an iconic memorial to all those killed in service.  The tomb, a white, marble sarcophagus has stood atop a hill overlooking the capital since 1921.  The Tomb is also a place of mourning and a site for reflection on military service.

Military Cemeteries

Arlington National Cemetery is the most-well known final resting place for America’s fallen heroes.  Approximately 400,000 veterans and their eligible dependents are interred there including service members from each of America’s major wars, from the War of Independence through today’s conflicts.  The cemetery also holds the grave of two U.S. presidents (Taft and Kennedy).  An eternal flame marks the place of Kennedy’s grave.  More than 16 million people visited the site in its first three years.

There are over 150 “national” cemeteries in the U.S.  These include the aforementioned Gettysburg, one of the 14 national cemeteries established by Lincoln in 1862.  Other famous national graveyards are Golden Gate National Cemetery and Antietam National Cemetery which contains nearly 5,000 graves (over 1800 are unidentified).  Antietam is the deadliest one-day battle in American military history with more than 22,000 casualties.  In this battle a nurse known as the “Angel of the Battlefield”, Clara Barton, brought badly needed supplies to doctors at the scene.

Since many American soldiers and sailors died in foreign lands, there are many military cemeteries on foreign soil.  Notably, St. James American Cemetery in Brittany, France contains the remains of over 4,000 World War II American soldiers, many who were killed on D-Day.  The Manilla American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines is the final resting place for more than 17,000 U.S. personnel who lost their lives during World War II.  Many were killed in New Guinea, or during the Battle of the Philippines (1941–42) or the Allied recapture of the islands.  Buried there are the five Sullivan Brothers, who perished when their ship was sunk in 1942.

Parades and Ceremonies

Memorial Day observances include parades, presentations of the colors, speeches, and gun salutes.  These events are often organized by groups such as Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, American Gold Star Mothers, and Daughters of the American Revolution.  The presentation of colors is a ceremony presenting the American flag and flags of the armed services (referred to as the “colors”).  A color guard, consisting of honor guards and flag bearers, presents the colors while a sergeant-at-arms dictates the orders during the ceremony.

There’s a protocol for displaying the American flag on Memorial Day.  The stars and stripes should be hoisted quickly up to full staff at sunrise, then lowered to half-staff until noon, and then returned to the top of the staff.  And, as always, any other flag displayed with Old Glory should be given a lower place. 

Gun salutes have long been associated with Memorial Day as a way to honor the fallen.  A three-volley salute – representing duty, honor, and country – is performed by a rifle party which fires blanks into the air three times in unison.  A 21-gun salute is typically performed with cannons rather than rifles, and, although reserved for the funeral of a sitting or former president, is sometimes given on Memorial Day.

Other Memorial Day traditions include pilgrimages by veterans and their families to military cemeteries and sites such as the World War II Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.  During the 3 p.m. moment of silence on Memorial Day, Amtrak conductors sound one long whistle in honor of those who have died in service.  Memorial Day is often chosen for special dedications of monuments.  Fittingly, in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated by then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Taft on Memorial Day. 

Hall of Heroes

What follows are just a few of the people who have paid the ultimate price on the battlefield.  Each received the nation’s highest award for military valor in action: the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Frank Luke

Lieut. Luke was a daredevil WWI fighter pilot who targeted heavily defended German observation balloons.  In just thirty hours of flight time over ten missions in nine days of combat, Luke shot down fourteen enemy balloons and four aircraft.  On his final mission on Sept. 29, 1918, his plane went down in a field near a small village in France.  He posthumously received a Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery.

Joe Gandara

Pvt. Gandara received the Congressional Medal of Honor “for his heroic actions on June 9, 1944, in Amfreville, France.  His detachment came under devastating enemy fire from a strong German force, pinning the men to the ground for a period of four hours.  Gandara advanced voluntarily and alone toward the enemy position and destroyed three hostile machine-guns before he was fatally wounded.”*

Alfred Nietzel

Sgt. Nietzel was awarded the Medal of Honor “for his valorous actions in Heistern, Germany, Nov. 18, 1944.  When an enemy assault threatened to overrun his unit’s position, Nietzel selflessly covered for the retreating members of his squad, expending all his ammunition and holding his post until he was killed by an enemy hand grenade.”*

Leonard Kravitz

Army Pfc. Kravitz was “recognized for his actions in Yangpyong, Korea, March 6-7, 1951. While occupying defensive positions, Kravitz’s unit was overrun by enemy combatants and forced to withdraw. Kravitz voluntarily remained at a machine-gun position to provide suppressive fire for the retreating troops. This forced the enemy to concentrate their attack on his own position. Kravitz ultimately did not survive the attack, but his actions saved his entire platoon.”*

Joe Baldonado

Army Cpl. Baldonado “distinguished himself on Nov. 25, 1950, while serving as a machine-gunner in the vicinity of Kangdong, Korea. Baldonado’s platoon was occupying Hill 171 when the enemy attacked, attempting to take their position. Baldonado held an exposed position, cutting down wave after wave of enemy troops even as they targeted attacks on his position. During the final assault by the enemy, a grenade landed near Baldanado’s gun, killing him instantly.”*

Oscar P. Austin

During the early morning hours of February 23, 1969, Marine Pfc. Austin’s observation post was attacked by a large North Vietnamese Army force.  One of his wounded companions had fallen unconscious in a position dangerously exposed to enemy fire.  Austin didn’t hesitate to leave the relative security of his position and, with complete disregard for his own safety, raced across the bullet-swept terrain to help.  As he neared his fellow Marine, Austin saw an enemy grenade land nearby.  Instantly, he leaped between the injured man and the grenade, absorbing its detonation.  Ignoring his painful injuries, Austin turned to examine the wounded man when he saw an NVA soldier aiming a weapon at the unconscious Marine.  Austin threw himself between his friend and the enemy soldier, and by doing this, was mortally wounded.   He gallantly gave his life for his comrade and his country.

Robert Miller

On January 25, 2008, following an engagement with insurgents in Afghanistan, Army “Staff Sergeant Miller led a small squad forward to conduct a battle damage assessment. As the group neared the small, steep, narrow valley that the enemy had inhabited, a large, well-coordinated insurgent force initiated a near ambush, assaulting from elevated positions with ample cover. Exposed and with little available cover, the patrol was totally vulnerable to enemy rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapon fire. As point man, Staff Sergeant Miller was at the front of the patrol, cut off from supporting elements, and less than 20 meters from enemy forces. Nonetheless, with total disregard for his own safety, he called for his men to quickly move back to covered positions as he charged the enemy over exposed ground and under overwhelming enemy fire in order to provide protective fire for his team. While maneuvering to engage the enemy, Staff Sergeant Miller was shot in his upper torso. Ignoring the wound, he continued to push the fight, moving to draw fire from over one hundred enemy fighters upon himself. He then again charged forward through an open area in order to allow his teammates to safely reach cover. After killing at least 10 insurgents, wounding dozens more, and repeatedly exposing himself to withering enemy fire while moving from position to position, Staff Sergeant Miller was mortally wounded by enemy fire.”†

*From remarks made by President Barack Obama at a Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony on 3/18/2014

From remarks made by President Barack Obama at a Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony on 10/6/2010

Resources for Teaching about Memorial Day

Help Teaching has created these educational resources:

KidsKonnect.com offers these resources:

BusyTeacher.org has these free resources:

In today’s culture which touts professional athletes and celebrities as heroes, it is important to instill in children and youth the significance of Memorial Day to America’s history and civic life.  Let’s teach them what true heroism is.

Celebrating Mother’s Day

After Christmas and Halloween, Mother’s Day is perhaps the most popular holiday on the calendar.  It is observed in different forms and on different days throughout the world.  In the United States, Canada, Australia, much of western Europe, Japan, China, the Philippines, South Africa, and India, Mother’s Day is always the second Sunday in May.  It’s a day set aside to honor and/or remember one’s mother.

“A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
Anna Jarvis, founder of Mother’s Day

(Read on to discover the meaning behind this unusual quote about this holiday.)

When did Mother’s Day Begin?

Although the ancient Greeks and Romans held festivals in honor of the mother goddesses Rhea and Cybele, the modern idea of Mother’s Day did not begin until about 175 years ago. Just before the American Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis helped start “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to teach women how to care for their children properly. After the war, she organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” when mothers would meet with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation. Another forerunner of Mother’s Day was promoted by the abolitionist and suffragette Julia Ward Howe, who in 1870 wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation,” asking mothers to unite in promoting world peace.

Anna Jarvis

It wasn’t until the daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, Anna Jarvis, took up the cause of promoting a Mother’s Day specifically to honor mothers that the idea became a national movement. In 1908 Jarvis held a memorial ceremony to honor her mother’s memory in Grafton, West Virginia. Jarvis had cared for her mother as her mother’s health had declined. The idea for a day set aside to honor mothers quickly caught on until President Woodrow Wilson made Mother’s Day an official U.S. holiday in 1914.

Mother’s Day quickly spread in popularity, and Jarvis just as quickly saw the rapid commercialization of the holiday as the exploitation of what was intended to be a special day of reverence for one’s mother. Oddly, she spent more of her life trying to eradicate the holiday than she did trying to create it.

Jarvis railed against the florist, card, and candy industries cashing in on Mother’s Day. She called for a boycott against florists who raised the price of the symbol of Mother’s Day – the white carnation – every May. At one point in the 1920s, her threat to sue the New York Mother’s Day Committee, which included the state’s governor and the city’s mayor, over plans for a large Mother’s Day celebration resulted in the event being canceled. When she crashed the American War Mothers convention, Jarvis was charged with disorderly conduct.

Mothering Sunday

It should be noted that in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, the origins of the holiday known as “Mothering Sunday” had nothing to do with honoring one’s mother, although nowadays in those countries, Mothering Sunday has become the equivalent of Mother’s Day.

Mothering Sunday is always held on the fourth Sunday of Lent, and that should give you a clue as to its genesis as a religious holiday. This Mid-Lent Sunday – or Laetare Sunday – also known as Refreshment Sunday, is a day to take a break from the penitential Lenten fasting. The day’s relation to mothering comes from the Scripture passages read during the Mass as far back as the 8th century. Since the 16th century, it had been a custom for families to attend a church service together in the nearest important church or cathedral – their “Mother” church. 

Mother’s Day traditions

In North America, Mother’s Day traditionally involves presenting moms with flowers, cards, and other gifts. Taking mom out to dinner is also very popular, and most restaurants that day will be mobbed with diners. Reservations are a must!

Americans spend upwards of 25 billion dollars each year on the holiday, second only to the combined spending during the Christmas/New Year/Hanukkah/Thanksgiving season. (Mother’s Day even tops Valentine’s Day in spending!). Families also celebrate by giving mothers a day off from activities like cooking or other household chores. Mothers and other women will be honored at worship services on Mother’s Day weekend. The honoring of mothers is not limited to just biological mothers, but anyone who has stepped up to raise children that may or may not be their own.

Flowers

Flowers are a popular gift for mom as bouquets, and potted blooms account for more than two-thirds of all Mother’s Day gifts. Even though it was the white carnation that originally became popular, red carnations are also considered the official Mother’s Day flower. More importantly, a bouquet of mom’s favorite variety of flowers is the one she most would like to receive. The more than fifteen thousand retail florists in the United States will sell about 2.8 billion stems of cut flowers for Mother’s Day. That’s 69% of all annual flower sales. Most of the flowers are brought in from Columbia, which accounts for 78% of imports.

Another American Mother’s Day tradition is the wearing of flowers. It is said that wearing red or pink flowers shows that one’s mother is still alive. If a person wears a white flower, it means that mother has passed away. Some people place white carnations on the grave of their mother.

Cards and calls

The greeting card industry relies heavily on Mother’s Day sales to survive. Some 113 million cards are sent each year on the holiday. Surely, though, mom’s most memorable and cherished cards are those made by hand by her young children.

Phone calls to mom are also a popular thing to do on Mother’s Day. There is nothing like hearing one’s child’s own voice on the other end of the line, especially if that child lives far away. Likewise, video chats are more popular now than ever.

Mother’s Day or Mothers’ Day?

When Anna Jarvis campaigned for a national holiday honoring mothers, she made special note of the correct placement of the possessive apostrophe. She felt strongly that the holiday should be a personal celebration of one’s mother, thus she preferred the singular possessive Mother’s to the plural possessive Mothers’. Sometimes the holiday is spelled without an apostrophe.

Mother’s Day around the World

As you might imagine, Mother’s Day is celebrated around the world in various ways on various days with various customs.

Asia

In Thailand, for example, Mother’s Day is always celebrated in August on the birthday of Sirikit, the Queen mother of Thailand. Mother’s Day in Nepal is based on the Bikram Sambat Nepali calendar, which follows the positions of the sun, moon and planets, thus this holiday lands in April or May. Mother’s Day is known in Nepal as Aama ko Mukh Herne Din (“day to see mother’s face”). For those whose mothers have died, people visit the legendary natural pond Mata-Tirtha outside of Kathmandu, where they believe they will see their mother’s face when they peer into the pond.

Eastern Europe

Most eastern European countries celebrate Mother’s Day on March 8, which is also International Women’s Day. This may be due to Soviet-era influence on the region. Vladimir Lenin, founder of Russia’s Communist Party, declared Woman’s Day an official Soviet holiday in 1917. Today, however, Russia’s official Mother’s Day holiday is the last Sunday in November as established by President Yeltsin in 1998. Since November is a very cold month in Russia, fresh-cut flowers are hard to come by, so Russians resort to the more hardy chrysanthemum as a floral gift for mom.

In Albania, people observe Mother’s Day on March 8, and is generally celebrated in many of the same ways as it would be around the world. One Albanian tradition is to give a simple gift of a mimosa sprig to mom.

Western Europe

In Germany, they celebrate Muttertag in May. However, the German tradition began in an unusual way when it was first celebrated in 1922 as a way to raise the country’s low birth rate. It was officially declared a German holiday by Hitler in 1933 when childbearing women were honored as heroes. Today, Germans honor their mothers similarly to how the rest of Europe does.

In Spain, Mother’s Day takes place on December 8, the Roman Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This celebrates what Christians believe was the day when Mary, the mother of Jesus, became with child through the Holy Spirit of God.

Arab lands

A day honoring moms was introduced in Egypt by journalist Mostafa Amin who convinced Egyptian president Gamal Nasser to create a national Mother’s Day in 1956. Ironically, when Amin was jailed for espionage several years later, the holiday was changed to “Family Day.” Many citizens protested, and the government changed it back to Mother’s Day.

Egypt (and most Arab countries) celebrate Mother’s Day on March 21st (vernal equinox). The date harkens back to the time of the pharaohs when the goddess Isis, a symbol of motherhood, was revered with boats full of flowers floating down the Nile to mark the coming of spring.

In Dubai, Mothers are treated to a special day of dining out, gourmet baking, flowered baskets, and perhaps even a day at a spa! Prestigious department stores such as Bloomingdale’s and Harvey Nichols offer special pampering packages.

Africa

Mother’s Day in Ethiopia comes in the fall, when people gather to sing songs and feast as part of Antrosht, a multi-day celebration honoring motherhood. The children bring ingredients to make a traditional hash. Girls bring butter, cheese, vegetables and spices, and the boys bring a bull or lamb. As the mother prepares the meat hash, she and her daughter(s) put butter on their faces and chests as part of the ritual. 

Mother’s Day is not an official public holiday in Kenya, but most people still observe it every second Sunday of May. Like elsewhere, it is typical to make a card for Mom and to write a poem or other special message inside. Many people also do the chores for their mother on Mother’s Day, take her out to dinner, or go on a family picnic. The most common gift ideas for Mum in Kenya include flowers, clothing, jewelry, and handmade gifts like decorations.

Mother’s Day is a unique day in Nigerian churches when everybody puts on their dancing shoes for a musical atmosphere in the worship service. The special moment is when the children are called upon to recite a Mother’s Day poem to their mothers, and each presents them with a gift.

Latin America

Mother’s Day in Mexico is always celebrated on May 10. Children write cards, deliver flowers, and give gifts to mothers. Children also help with housework, churches have special masses, and music, food, and family gatherings are all traditional ways to honor Mexican mothers.

In Costa Rica, Mother’s Day is a national holiday observed on August 15, which is the Roman Catholic holy day celebrating the Assumption of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Costa Rican mothers are treated like true royalty, receiving gifts as large as appliances. Some families may even raise a pig to be cooked that day.

Peruvians also honor their mothers in August, and they celebrate Mother Earth, or Pachamama, a goddess revered by Andean indigenous peoples. In Inca mythology, Pachamama is a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting.

In Bolivia, Dia de la Madre is the most celebrated holiday besides Christmas. Mother’s Day is always May 27, a day that memorializes Bolivian women who resisted the Spanish Army in 1812. Hundreds of women, children and elders were slaughtered. After they gained independence from Spain, Bolivia declared May 27 as the “Day of the heroines of Coronillas” after the place where the women were killed.

Resources for Mother’s Day

Help Teaching offers these educational resources:

KidsKonnect.com has Mother’s Day Facts & Worksheets.

BusyTeacher.org offers a bouquet of resources here.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Among Americans, the most misunderstood fact of Cinco de Mayo is that the holiday is NOT Mexico’s independence day, nor does it have anything to do with the country’s founding.  In reality, Cinco de Mayo (“Fifth of May” in Spanish) has become more of an American holiday than a Mexican one and, for many, just an excuse for revelry.   Most non-Mexican Americans have no idea about the day’s history, but for your students this holiday can be a strong anchor for learning about the U.S.A.’s southern neighbor.

You don’t have to be Mexican to celebrate Mexico’s heritage

What is Cinco de Mayo?

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over the forces of Napoleon III of France on May 5, 1862, at the Battle of Puebla.  In 1861, Mexico declared a temporary suspension of the repayment of foreign debts, so British, Spanish, and French troops invaded the country.  By the spring of 1862 the British and Spanish had withdrawn, but the French  remained.  Its goal was to establish a monarchy under Maximilian of Austria and to curb growing U.S. power in North America.

Mexican and French forces met in battle at Puebla, southeast of Mexico City.  In an unlikely turn of events, a poorly equipped Mexican army under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza defeated the French troops.   The victory at Puebla became a symbol of Mexican resistance to foreign domination (although the fighting continued and the French were not driven out for another five years).  Although the holiday was only celebrated locally for about 100 years, by the mid twentieth century the celebration of Cinco de Mayo became among Mexican immigrants to the United States a way of encouraging pride in their Mexican heritage.

A Celebration of Mexican Heritage

From the 16th century onward, Mexico had been dominated by the Spanish empire until it revolted against Spain in 1810.  The Spanish influence can be felt even today in the language, culture, music, and food of the country.  However, the Spanish overlords could not erase the heritage of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, and this native heritage is also strongly felt among the people.

Oddly, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated more in the U.S. than in Mexico.  Except for in the state of Puebla, May 5 is like any other day.  It is not a federal holiday, so stores, banks, and government offices remain open.  Americans of Mexican descent, and Americans of all ethnic backgrounds in the U.S. observe the holiday informally to celebrate Mexican culture.

Mexican cuisine

Mexico has one of the world’s most historic cuisines, and this history is reflected in every dish.  The origins of Mexican cuisine go back 5,000 years, when Mexico had yet to be colonized by Europeans.  At that time, indigenous people, who eventually coalesced into cultures such as the Olmec, Maya, Toltec, Aztec, Zapotec, and Mixtec, roamed the area and survived by hunting and gathering.  One of the most common plants in the area was the wild chile pepper, which they ate frequently.

Corn

It is thought that corn first entered the diet of the first Mexicans around 1200 BCE.  Corn was domesticated through a process called Nixtamalization in which the corn is soaked and cooked in limewater (or another an alkaline solution), washed, and hulled.  This softens the corn for grinding.  This process led to the use of corn based breads such as tortillas.  Since meat was scarce in the area, the indigenous people used beans as a source of protein.  The beans would be served as a side of most meals with corn.

Enter the Europeans

If you are familiar with the term “the Columbian Exchange”, you will know this was the widespread transfer of plants, animals, culture, humans, technology, diseases, and ideas between the Old World and the New World 16th century.  In what would become Mexico, the Spanish brought many of their own dishes to the indigenous culture such as rice, olive oil, garlic, coriander, and cinnamon.  They also brought many domesticated animals like pigs, sheep, cows, and chickens.  Cows and goats were used for dairy as well as meat, so cheese became a main ingredient in many dishes.  Since colonization, many cultures have influenced Mexican Food, including the French who had a strong military presence in the country in the 19th century.  French food was enjoyed by the upper class even after they left.

Mexican Food Today

Today Mexican Cuisine is a blend of indigenous and Spanish cuisine.  Its foundation remains corn, beans, tortillas, and chile peppers, but these are now usually served with meat and cheese.  Most dishes have a side of rice and spices, reflecting European influence.  It should be noted there is a big difference between what is considered authentic Mexican cuisine and the more well-known Tex-Mex cuisine such as burritos, chili con carne, chimichangas, hardshell tacos, enchiladas, nachos, and fajitas.

The languages of Mexico

Spanish is spoken by the vast majority of Mexicans (110 million people), but another 2 million also speak Nahuatl which is derived from the ancient language spoken by the Aztecs.  English is the third most-spoken language, and languages related to the Maya are spoken by a million people in southern Mexico.  Interestingly, in 2003, a law defending the rights of indigenous tongues recognized 69 languages (including Spanish) as Mexico’s official languages.

Mexican music

Like most things in Mexico, the music of the country is a blend of Spanish and native influences.  The three major types of Mexican music are: Mariachi, Norteño, and Banda.  Mariachi is perhaps the best known outside of the country.

Long considered a uniquely Mexican sound, representing a grass roots tradition that includes both indigenous and foreign elements, Mariachi is a small Mexican ensemble of mostly stringed instruments.  The typical instruments of Mariachi include the vihuela (a five-string guitar related to a Spanish Renaissance instrument), the guitarrón (a large, fretless 6-string bass guitar), a standard six-string acoustic guitar, violins, and trumpets.  Mariachi are most memorably heard performing the popular song “La Cucaracha” (“the Cockroach”) on the street, at festivals, or in restaurants.

Norteño, is a style of folk music associated with northern Mexico and Texas.  This style typically features an accordion and uses polkas and other rhythms found in the music of German, Austrian, and Czech folk music.  Norteño was brought to Mexico from Europe by the Austrian archduke Maximillian who reigned as emperor of the Second Mexican Empire.

Banda is a Mexican band featuring brass instruments, the tambora (a two-headed drum), woodwinds, and singers.  Its energizing percussive power and commanding horns makes Banda unique.

Folk dancing is still common in Mexico.  Everyone knows the iconic “Mexican Hat Dance”, Jarabe Tapatio.  This dance, performed by one person or several people, involves tossing a sombrero to the center of the stage, dancing around it and ending the performance with a collective “Olé!” and a hand clap.

Classical music is also popular in Mexico.  Manuel María Ponce’s “Concierto del Sur” for guitar and orchestra is among the most famous classical works, and “Guatimotzin” is a well-known Mexican opera.

Mexican art

Mexican art is unique and distinct, representing Mexican culture’s rich heritage and colorful pride.  Perhaps the best-known painters are Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera.  Folk art plays a key role in Mexican culture with handcrafted clay pottery, multi-colored baskets and rugs, and garments with angular designs.  Mexican mythology themes are still used in designs, most commonly the gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoc.

Mexican literature

In 1990, Octavio Paz, certainly one of the greatest authors of the 20th century, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Agustín Yáñez and Carlos Fuentes rank among great Mexican writers, too.  Fuentes’ 1985 novel The Old Gringo, about the disappearance of the American writer Ambrose Bierce in Mexico during the revolution, is his best known novel in the United States.  Europe, South and East Asia have important writers from antiquity, and so do the Americas.  The Pre-Columbian writer Nezahualcoyotl left behind a legacy of poetry and written works in the Classical Nahuatl language.

Mexican holidays

Celebrations in Mexico are called “fiestas” and typically include parades, fireworks, and pageants.  Traditional masks are also present in fiestas, as is the traditional papier-mâché object, the piñata, made to look like an animal or person.  It is filled with candy and toys and suspended from the ceiling at a fiesta.  Blindfolded children take turns trying to hit it open with a bat.

Some fiestas are religious in nature, so prayers and the burning of candles also take place.  The most important religious holiday for Mexico is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12th.   It commemorates the belief that a man encountered the Virgin Mary on this day in 1531.

November 2 is Día de los Muertos (“The Day of the Dead”), also known as All Souls’ Day.  On this holiday, Mexicans honor those that have passed on.  Items collected throughout the year are placed on an adorned altar as an offering to the dead person.

Celebrated as a national public holiday, Mexican Independence day is September 16 and includes massive street parades, plenty of traditional foods, and rodeos.

Resources for Learning about Mexico

Help Teaching offers these educational resources:

KidsKonnect.com has 

BusyTeacher.org offers

Why not use Cinco de Mayo as a jumping off point to introduce students to the history and culture of Mexico.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Image source: Freepik.com

A Different Way to Mark the Coming of Spring

Most people are familiar with the two major spring festivals in the west: Easter and Passover, but there are several other lesser-known spring celebrations, which come from pagan tradition.  We will take a look at some of the pagan festivals, which although ancient – and a bit off the beaten path – are still held today.

Ancient Pagan Festivals

Many of these festivals stem from ancient fertility rites, so caution must be used, as some celebrations in antiquity involved sexual rituals.  Thus, content should be closely reviewed before presenting to students.

Beltane

Beltane means “fires of Bel” in Gaelic (Bel was a Celtic god).  It is a fire festival that celebrates spring and the fertility of the coming growing season.  Springtime is the beginning of the agricultural calendar, and farmers would be hoping for a fruitful year for their families and crops.

Rituals of Beltane often included courting between young men and women who would collect blossoms in the forest and light fires in the evening.  These rituals and pagan festivals would often lead to marriages in the coming summer or autumn.  Fire was thought to cleanse, purify and increase fertility, so it played a central role in Beltane.  To ensure the fertility of the herd, cattle were often paraded between two fires.

Although agriculture is no longer the center of contemporary life, some modern pagans celebrate Beltane as a way to cultivate the “fertility” of an individual’s creativity.  Fertile minds are needed for our work, our families, and our health.  Celebrants today will leap over fire to bring good fortune, happiness, and fertility to mind, body, and spirit.

Every year on the last night of April, thousands of people come together in Edinburgh, Scotland, for a huge celebration to mark Beltane.  A procession led by the May Queen (fertility) and the Green Man (growth) marks the change of seasons.  Winter concludes when the Green Man’s winter attire is removed to reveal his spring costume.  A dance takes place as the Green Man and the May Queen are married.

Floralia 

The Roman pagan fertility-focused festival of Floralia occurred for six days beginning April 28, and this seems to be the likely origin of some of the things we associate with May Day.  Roman poets Ovid and Juvenal mention the wearing of bright colors, lots of drinking, and sexual permissiveness during this celebration dedicated to Flora, the goddess of flowers.  Romans marked Floralia with a set of athletic games and theatrical productions known as the Ludi Florales.  After the performances, the celebration continued in the Circus Maximus, where animals were set free and beans scattered to ensure fertility.

Walpurgisnacht

An old Germanic festival also involving bonfires, which later merged with the feast of the eighth-century German Saint Walpurga became known as Walpurgisnacht (or Hexennacht, meaning “Witches’ Night”).

According to tradition, on the eve of May Day, all witches and warlocks would fly in from all around Germany on broomsticks or goats, and come together on the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz Mountains.  Here they would await the arrival of spring with bonfires and dancing.  In reality, though, the gathering was probably not made up of witches, but rather ordinary pagan people who were forced to secretly practice their ancient rituals because church law forbade them to do so.  The lofty Brocken was often shrouded in cloud cover, making it a good place for clandestine meetings.

Festivals co-opted by the Roman Church

By the Middle Ages, what had once been the fertility rituals Floralia and Beltane had been subsumed into the Roman Church calendar and converted into the Christian celebration of Whitsun, or Pentecost.  The Welsh tale of Geraint begins with a description of the Welsh kings’ Whitsun feast, one of the three times feasts of the year, along with Christmas and Easter, when vassals were gifted with new clothes.  Although disputed, it is thought by some that the word Easter was derived from Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility.

Bringing in the May

May Day (May 1) celebrates the return of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, with origins in the fertility rites of ancient agrarian societies of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans.  May Day falls exactly 6 months from All Saints Day (November 1).  This ancient festival survives today, including decorating a May tree or maypole, around which people dance.  May 1 has also become linked with political action in association with International Workers Day.

In most places, people would “bring in the May” by gathering flowers and branches to make garlands or wreaths.  The English poet and author Geoffrey Chaucer mentions woodbine (a honeysuckle shrub) and hawthorn (a flowering shrub of the rose family) in The Knight’s Tale, while birch was more common in Wales and sycamore in Cornwall.  The flowers were given as prizes or gifts to friends and neighbors.  The quaint custom of washing one’s face in the morning dew of May Day was supposed to bring youth and radiance to one’s complexion.

The most lasting May Day image is the painted and ribboned-trimmed maypole which was displayed prominently on the village green.  Despite the earliest recorded mention of this pagan festivals in a mid-fourteenth century Welsh poem, it seems to have English, rather than Celtic, roots.  There are many theories as to the maypole’s original significance, but there is no definitive explanation.

May Day rituals go back a long time but were not enjoyed by everyone.  In the 1600’s the fun-loving festivity of May Day was frowned upon by the Puritans, who banned dancing and merry-making in England.

May Day Rituals

In the fifteenth century, pantomimes of Robin Hood stories became a popular part of May Day celebrations, as did Morris dancing.  This form of English folk dance is based on rhythmic footwork and the performance of choreographed steps by a group of dancers wearing bells on their shins.  The dancers may also brandish sticks, swords, and handkerchiefs.

The ‘Obby ‘Oss Festival takes place in the town of Padstow in Cornwall on May Day.  The main activities revolve around the two Obby Osses (hobby horses), which resemble a one-man pantomime horse.  The horses’ main task is to cavort around the town in search of maidens followed by a team of dancers, dressed in white, playing accordions and banging drums.

The beginning of May, and the association of spring in general with fertility and courtship, was popularized by the medieval French troubadours.  A famous song from the twelfth century known as Kalenda maya (“Calends (first) of May”) celebrates the unrequited love of a knight for a lady:

Gracious lady,

everyone praises and proclaims

your worth, which gives such pleasure;

and he who forgets you,

prizes life but a trifle

and so I adore you, distinguished lady.

Teaching Resources

Help Teaching offers related educational resources

KidsKonnect.com has 

Other resources include these videos 

So, there you have a quick tour of some of the lesser-known festivals which celebrate the blossoming of the earth each spring.  Get dressed up, wash your face in the morning dew, leave a surprise wreath of flowers for someone special, and find a sunny spot to revel in the coming of spring!

Image source: Freepik.com

10 Engaging Earth Day Activities for Kids

Earth Day is April 22. Since 1970, Earth Day has been raising public awareness of environmental issues. Learn more about the day, fun activities for kids, and resources available!

Since 1970, Earth Day has been raising public awareness of environmental issues. Today, our waterways are less polluted and our air is cleaner, yet there is still much work to be done before we can consider ourselves a sustainable society. This year, engage your students or children with one of these eco-friendly activities on Earth Day or the weeks surrounding it.

Activities for Children – Kindergarten to Grade 6

Plant a Tree

It may seem cliché, but planting a tree is a simple act that helps the environment and gets children outdoors enjoying the natural world on Earth Day. Coordinate with your school a place on the grounds where your class can plant a tree or check with your local conservation board for a public location. Apply for free trees through organizations like Trees for Schools (UK only) and Trees for Wildlife or by having students write to local nurseries.

Raise a School Garden

April is National Garden Month, making Earth Day the perfect time to plant a school garden. Gardens are an excellent way to get kids moving, encourage healthy eating, and incorporate project-based learning into your curriculum. A school garden takes time and commitment, but in planning and raising a garden, you will sow seeds that will help your students reap a lifetime of rewards! Get started with these school gardening tips.

Let the trash pile up!

During the week leading up to Earth Day, arrange with the custodian not to remove the trash and recycling from your classroom. On Earth Day, have your students weigh the trash and recycling they generated (weigh trash separately from recycling). Over the next week, challenge your students to toss and use less, plus recycle more. After a week, have students weigh the trash and recycling again and calculate the decrease (hopefully!) in trash weight and increase in recycling weight. Extend the lesson for older students and have them calculate percent increase and decrease as well. Get started by assigning the lessons Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and The Trash Patrol, then read our America Recycles Activity Guide for more ideas.

Walk to School

It is good for the environment and our children’s health. More and more schools are planning annual walk- or bike-to-school days. Why not plan one for April 22 or use Earth Day to have your students start planning for National Walk to School Day in May? Visit the Walk & Bike to School website for more information on getting started.

Our Top Pick

Declare April 22 Waste-Free Lunch Day

With the help of your class and the EPA’s Pack A Waste-Free Lunch site, make Earth Day a school-wide commitment to reducing the mounds of garbage generated during a typical school lunch. Have your class coordinate with administrators and cafeteria workers and help spread the word to students and parents about what can be done to minimize lunch waste.

Get your students excited for Earth Day by engaging them with these interactive lessons on Climate Literacy and Environmentalism by PBS Learning Media and with Help Teaching’s self-paced science lessons.

Activities for Teens – Grades 7 to 12

Participate in a Citizen Science Project

Engage your children or students in authentic science by participating in an eco-themed crowd science collaboration. There are numerous projects running that allow students to participate with adult supervision, including the environmentally oriented: Forgotten Island, The Lost Ladybug Project, and Globe at Night.

Our Top Pick

Take a Field Trip

What student doesn’t love a field trip? Plan an inexpensive day out by arranging tours of your local landfill, recycling center, wastewater treatment facility, and/or power plant (even better – visit a plant that uses renewable energy and one that uses a nonrenewable source). Yes, it will be dirty, hot, and smelly, but what better way for students to develop an understanding of where energy comes from and trash goes than to see it for themselves?

Host an Environmental Career Fair

Enlist your students in finding local professionals working in environmental careers to visit the school on Earth Day. Arrange for a career fair that allows students to hear about green jobs and discuss job duties with the professionals. Have students prepare questions ahead of time and write thank-you notes after.

Conduct a School Energy Audit

Challenge students to work in small groups to perform an energy audit of their school. Each group can audit energy use for a given building space like the classroom, cafeteria, gymnasium, or auditorium. Groups can share their results and compare their findings, then use the data to prepare an energy action plan to present to school administration. The National Wildlife Federation and Green Education Foundation both offer resources for energy audit projects for students.

Build a Rube Goldberg Machine

Ask your students to bring in a variety of cleaned items from their home recycling containers during the week leading up to Earth Day. On April 22, divide your students into teams and task them with designing and building a machine that completes a simple eco-friendly task such as turning off the lights or watering a plant. Provide basic materials, like string and wire, to aid in construction. Be sure and have your students demonstrate their machines for an audience and see if their projects can be displayed in the school lobby or library.  Find free lesson plans and ideas at RubeGoldberg.com.

Launch a Project-Based Learning Unit

Spring has sprung and students are anxious to get outside, making Earth Day the perfect time to embark on an environmentally focused project-based learning (PBL) initiative. BIE.org offers extensive PBL resources for teachers and students.

Be sure to visit Help Teaching’s Earth Science Printables and Lessons for free environmental science resources to use on Earth Day and year round!

Additional Online Resources

The 50-year legacy of Earth Day can be effectively transmitted with these resources.  Hopefully, in another 50 years, your students will have witnessed the solutions to many of our planet’s environmental problems.  Happy Earth Day!

Image source: Unsplash

7 Things to Remember When Working with Kids with Autism

April is Autism Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about autism within the community. Learn more about working with kids with autism.

As autism rates have risen over the years, so has awareness. However, as parents of children with autism know, a lot of myths and misunderstandings still exist. Whether you’re a teacher, a principal, or someone who works in another capacity in the schools, it’s important that you avoid the myths and develop an accurate understanding of what autism is and what it looks like to work with kids with autism.

1. Autism is a Spectrum

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of autism is that kids with autism are on a spectrum. There’s a world of difference between kids with high-functioning autism versus low-functioning autism. Before assuming anything about a child with autism, learn where they are on the spectrum and what particular aspects of autism they demonstrate the most.

  • Are they socially awkward?
  • Do they have trouble understanding non-literal language?
  • Do they lack basic communication skills?
  • Do they have tics?
  • Is it difficult for them to make eye contact?
  • Do they express emotions inappropriately?

Not all children with autism will express all of these traits and some will express all of them and more.

2. Autism does not Signal a Lack of Intelligence

Many parents have sat through IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings where they listened to professionals discuss their child’s lack of intelligence. For example, in a recent initial IEP meeting for a newly-diagnosed child with autism, the Child Study Team leader said, “We’ll give him a series of tests to see where he is, but I’m sure he’ll be low.” This assumption was made simply because the child had been diagnosed with autism. Imagine how surprised she was to learn that not only did the student not score low, but he was working above grade-level in multiple subject areas.

Kids with autism may struggle academically, but often their struggles do not signal a lack of intelligence. Rather, they signal their struggle to adapt to the educational system. In many cases, kids with autism solve problems and communicate differently than what is expected. Sometimes teachers and other educational professionals think they got the answer wrong, when really they just thought about it differently.

3. Autism Often Confuses Other Kids

7 Things to Remember When Working with Kids WIth Autism Sesame Street App

Several years ago, Sesame Street introduced its first autistic character, Julia. While Julia represents a character to whom many children with autism relate, she also serves as a tool to help teach other kids how to interact with kids who have autism. Kids don’t always know how to act around kids who are different or who don’t do what’s expected. Teachers can use models like Julia and other activities to help kids understand what autism is and how to interact with their peers who have autism. After all, everyone has differences. Some of those differences are just more noticeable than others.  Learn more on this topic in “Educating Children about Autism in an Inclusive Classroom” from the University of Prince Edward Island.

4. Autism is Unpredictable

One thing about working with kids with autism is that you are never quite sure how they will react. Sometimes, you’ll expect them to react negatively to a loud concert and they’ll be fine. Other times, you will think a certain activity will be easy for them and it will become a major challenge. When you work with kids with autism, you must be flexible. You must also learn to recognize their cues so you can adjust a situation to avoid making it a bigger problem.

5. Autism Requires Predictability

Imagine living every day without knowing what’s going to happen. For kids with autism, that’s often a reality. They are not always in control of their emotions and navigating life can be confusing. Surprises lurk around almost every corner. However, the adults in their lives can help limit those surprises by developing routines for them to follow. For some kids, just knowing the general schedule of the school day will help. For others, parents and teachers will need to develop a detailed schedule that includes the smallest of events, such as brushing their teeth and going to the bathroom. If the schedule is going to change for any reason, adults should also try to take time to warn the child about the change in advance. For example, a child expecting to do math at 10:15 may be upset if he goes out for early recess instead. Even though recess is fun, the disruption to his routine could outweigh that fun.

6. Autism Requires Parents and Educators to Work as a Team

Educators have a lot of students to focus on, but when working with a child with autism, it is essential they take the time to develop a relationship with the child’s parents and work as a team to ensure they are working in that child’s best interests. Educators should respect a parent’s position as an expert on the child, while parents should respect an educator’s professional expertise and observations in the classroom. Educators must also be careful not to criticize parents of autistic children for making decisions related to their child. They must also take into consideration the child’s autism when making observations about the child’s appearance or behavior. For example, a note home saying “Please ensure your child wears socks each day” may seem innocent, but it may not take into consideration the fact that the parent is encouraging the child to become more independent in dressing himself and letting him go to school without socks when he forgets is part of that process.

Some of the information above may overwhelm educators. “I have 25 students in my class. How can I spend this much time on the needs of just one?” At the end of the day, it’s not that hard. Just as you get to know your other students, get to know your students who have autism. Learn their quirks. Get to know their personality. Focus on their diagnosis, but at the same time don’t focus on their diagnosis. Just treat them as human beings.

There are lots of resources available to help educators work with children with autism. One of them is the School Community Tool Kit from Autism Speaks. It contains a wealth of resources, information sheets, worksheets, and activities to help the many different people in a school community understand autism.

For educators looking for help with behavior modification, check out Insights to Behavior, a free resource full of activities to help educators create behavior plans for students, as well as find activities to help with some of the social and emotional challenges kids with autism face.

You can find additional books, videos, toys, and information sheets in the Autism Speaks Resource Library. If you’re looking for more educational resources, you may appreciate Help Teaching’s Life Skills or Study Skills worksheets or use Help Teaching’s Test Maker platform to develop tests, quizzes, and worksheets that can meet the needs of your autistic students.

Resources for working with kids with autism

The internet is bristling with free resources to help teach your students with autism!

Teachers and parents will benefit from professional development in this area:

  • The Teacher’s Corner at the Organization for Autism Research is giving away resources to teach yourself about how you can better support students on the spectrum in your classroom.
  • The Autism Society has material geared for school administrators, teachers and families
  • More programmers are turning their attention to the unique learning needs of kids on the autism spectrum. CommonSense.org has a list of the best apps for kids with autism
  • From kindergarten to college, students with autism spectrum disorder can soar with this guide to academic resources, social support, and expert tips for school success produced by Student Training & Education in Public Service
  • Accredited Schools Online has a free guide which discusses the unique difficulties autistic students face and how educators and families can respond to them
  • From music education to handwriting, snug vests, and even cruise vacations, the state of Oregon’s Columbia Regional Program has compiled a list of Best Web Resources for Autism
  • The University of Louisville’s Kentucky Autism Training Center has assembled and exhaustive list of instructional resources and products
  • The National Association of Special Education Teachers has a compendium of resources for nearly every topic in autism education
  • A number of different approaches can be used to yield positive results when teaching students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, outlined in this article from St. Joseph’s University
  • The Indiana Resource Center for Autism at Indiana University’s Institute on Disability and Community offers Teaching Tips for Children and Adults with Autism
  • The Marcus Autism Center has tools and tips for helping you care for a child with autism
  • Here is a valuable list of autism resources compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Books, worksheets, and videos for students with autism are selected by an astute 8th grader from New Jersey in this list from the Association for Science in Autism Treatment
  • The National Education Association has oodles of resources for educators

At-home learning

This is just a small sampling of the resources available to you as you face the challenge of teaching a student with autism.

Image source: Vecteezy

How to Teach Kids about Passover

In Judaism, Passover ranks just below Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in importance. Learn more about this religious holiday as well as access resources perfect for the classroom.

What is Passover?

 Passover commemorates the miraculous deliverance of the Hebrew people from 400 years of slavery in Egypt sometime in the 14th century BCE.  This event is detailed in Exodus, the second book of the Torah.  Passover, also known as Pesach, is an eight-day festival celebrated by Jews the world over.

In 2021, Passover is celebrated starting on the evening of March 27 through April 4.  Although the dates vary from year to year, Passover is a spring festival in the northern hemisphere.  Passover is always on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, but since the Jewish calendar is lunar (based on the moon’s cycle), the dates in the secular calendar change each year.

The First Passover

The great story of Passover actually begins near the end of the book of Genesis, the first book of the Torah, when ancestors of the Hebrew people (the patriarch Jacob and his sons and their families) migrated from the land of Canaan (modern-day Palestine and Israel).  Jacob’s family left their homeland because of a famine, and found refuge in Egypt where one of Jacob’s sons—thought to be dead—had previously risen to second in command after the Egyptian king (or pharoah).  This story is also a great one, but for another time!

Jews enslaved

Sometime after this migration, the children of Jacob (who were also descendants of Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, the founder of Judaism) became known as Hebrews and became numerous in the land of Egypt, so much so that a new pharoah sought to control them by making them slaves.  This period lasted about four centuries.

Exodus says the Hebrew people cried out to the Lord for deliverance from this harsh slavery.  God heard their prayers and raised up a man who would lead a mass escape from this servitude.  That man was Moses.

God anoints a deliverer

Moses actually grew up in the pharaoh’s household when the king’s daughter discovered him as an infant in a basket in the Nile.  What was this infant doing floating in a basket in a river?  Well, Moses had been placed there by his mother to hide him from a slaughter of Hebrew babies carried out under the pharaoh’s orders.  He was raised as an adopted son of the pharaoh’s daughter.  Subsequently as a grown man, Moses fled Egypt after murdering another Egyptian who was abusing a slave.  He hid out in the land of Midian tending flocks for about 40 years.  Eventually, the Lord spoke miraculously to Moses through a burning bush, appointing him as the leader who would return to Egypt to lead his people out of slavery.

The plagues upon Egypt

Moses, along with his brother Aaron, confront the pharaoh, demanding the release of the Hebrew slaves (by now numbering about a half million).  To move the king’s hand toward this end, God delivers a series of ten plagues on Egypt.  Plagues of frogs, locusts, darkness, boils, you name it, were thrown at the kingdom of Egypt.  The last plague is the impetus behind the Passover event.

This tenth plague was the worst of them all.  It involved a night when an angel of death, sent by God, struck down all the first-born sons in the land of Egypt as well as all first-born male animals.  The Lord told the Hebrews to save themselves from this plague by sacrificing a lamb and smearing its blood on their doorposts thus sending a signal to the angel of death to “pass over” that home leaving the occupants unharmed.  They were to roast and eat the lamb and stay in their homes all night.

Immediately after this plague, the pharaoh summoned Moses and told him to take all his people out of the land of Egypt.  The Hebrews left so quickly they took their bread dough before they had a chance to add yeast to it.  This is why Passover is sometimes referred to as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

How is Passover celebrated today?

Passover is divided into two parts.  The main ritual is called the seder, which happens on the first two nights (in Israel just the first night) of the festival.  The first two days and last two days (the latter remembering the parting of the Red Sea) are full-fledged holidays.  Holiday candles are lit at night, and sumptuous holiday meals are enjoyed on both nights and days.  Most Jews don’t go to work or drive.  Some more devout Jews will not write, or even switch on or off electric devices.  The middle four days (Chol Hamoed) are semi-festive when most forms of work are permitted.

In 2021, the first Passover seder is on the evening of Saturday, March 27.  It’s a holiday meal that involves the re-telling of the Exodus through stories and song and the eating of symbolic foods. The seder’s rituals and other readings are recited from the Haggadah.  The most significant missing ingredient is hametz, or foods with leaven.  This is to remember how the Hebrews were in such a hurry to exit Egypt after the tenth plague, that they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise.

Matzah, or unleavened bread, is the main food of Passover.  It’s available at most supermarkets, or you can make your own.  Other traditional foods include haroset (a mixture of fruit, nuts, wine, and cinnamon) representing the mortar used by Hebrew slaves, and matzah ball soup.  A roasted shank bone represents the Pesach sacrifice, and an egg represents spring and the circle of life.  Some households will serve gefilte fish too.  Drinking four cups of wine, dipping veggies into saltwater, children asking the Four Questions (Mah Nishtanah: “How is this night different from all other nights?”), and singing late into the night are also a part of the celebration.

The joyful cycle of psalms called Hallel is recited both at night and day (during the seder and morning prayers).  Passover also commences a 49-day period called the Omer, which memorializes the enumeration of offerings brought to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.  This count culminates in the holiday of Shavuot, the anniversary of the receiving of the Torah at Sinai.
Relevant political or social justice themes have been incorporated into contemporary Passover seders.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow, for example, published the “Freedom Seder” in 1969, which discusses the Civil Rights movement and the women’s movement.  The American Jewish World Service offers a free Global Justice Haggadah to spark meaningful conversations at your seder. 

Resources for Teaching about Passover

Printed resources

Help Teaching

KidsKonnect

Free resources online

Online videos

Free virtual online Passover seders

Passover is a marvellous story of deliverance that can be taught in many ways.  Young and old alike will enjoy the retelling of this central tale of Judaism.

May you have a chag Pesach kasher vesame’ach (“kosher and joyous Passover” in Hebrew)!

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